Universal credit: Live service areas
This page explains the live service and what it means for new tax credit claims as well as for existing tax credit claimants.
- What is a live service area?
- Who can claim in live service areas?
- Existing live service claimants
- Gateway conditions
- Claims for tax credits by live service claimants
- Transferring from live service to full service
When UC started in April 2013, the IT system used was developed by private contractors. Following a programme ‘reset’, DWP decided to build their own digital IT system that would run alongside the existing system. Areas using the original system are known as ‘live service areas’.
Live service areas continued to roll-out until April 2016 in order to test and learn processes and policy. From May 2016, live service areas are gradually becoming full service areas and all existing live service claimants in those areas are being transferred to the full service system.
In order to implement the changes to UC announced in the Autumn Budget 2017, the Government closed the live service for brand new claims from 1 January 2018. This means that some areas no longer have any UC service for new claimants and instead they will need to claim legacy benefits including tax credits until the full service reaches their postcode. We explain this change in more detail below.
It is important to understand whether an area is a live service area (although no brand new live service claims will be accepted from 1 January 2018) or is a full service area because the main UC rules are different between the two. In addition, some areas that are currently live service will be changed to full service at some point in the future and advisers will need to understand the process for transferring between the two systems. You can use our tool universalcreditinfo.net to find out the position for any postcode area.
No brand new claims for UC are possible in live service areas. Instead new claimants must continue to make claims for tax credits and other legacy benefits.
From 1 January 2018, the UC live service stopped taking brand new claims. This change was announced following the Autumn Budget 2017. No legislative change was needed to implement this closure of the live service because a determination was made under Regulation 4 Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2014. This power allows the Secretary of State to decide not to accept any particular claims of UC in order to safeguard the efficient administration of UC or to ensure the effective testing of systems for the administration of UC.
Prior to 1 January 2018 all postcodes in Great Britain had some UC service for new claimants - some postcodes had live service and others had full service. However, from 1 January 2018, some areas have returned to a status of having no UC service for new claimants. Instead, claimants who would have met the gateway conditions for live service must claim legacy benefits (tax credits, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit and income support). This will remain in place until that postcode area becomes part of the full UC service.
Existing UC live service claimants, who originally claimed in live service areas before 1 January 2018, continue their UC claims.
Other people who will not be affected by the change include:
- Those transitioning to full service - this means that where a postcode area that has been part of the live service becomes a full service area, existing live service claimants will need to make a new claim to the full service soon after.
- Those who change address - according to a DWP memo, this will be classed as a change of circumstances within universal credit.
- Those who join an existing universal credit claim - where a person forms a couple with an existing live service claimant, the couple will continue their claim to universal credit.
- Those who separate from their partner - where a couple are claiming UC under the live service and they separate, both claimants will remain on UC as single claimants (if appropriate).
- Where someone has received universal credit in a live service area which ended because their earnings increased, their claim stays open for up to 6 months. If their earnings fall in that 6 month period, they should be awarded UC again without the need for a new claim. As no claim is required by the legislation, they are not affected by the 1 January 2018 change.
This change opens up the possibility of some people being able to withdraw/terminate existing live service claims and returning to legacy benefits through choice. Advice should be sought from a welfare rights specialist for anyone considering this. This is not possible in full service UC areas.
Claims made after 1 January 2018 for UC cannot be backdated to before that date. Any backdating will need to be dealt with by the relevant legacy benefit.
Prior to 1 January 2018, those claimants who lived in relevant districts No.1 to No.28, had to meet the gateway conditions in this document in order to claim UC.
From 6 April 2017 to 31 January 2019, claimants who are responsible for three or more children will not be able to make a claim for UC unless they:
- Have claimed UC in the previous 6 months and are able to make a re-claim for UC; or
- Are a single person and were claiming UC with someone else as part of a couple and that claim ended in the last month
For this purpose ‘reclaim’ means a claim that is made by a single person or members of a couple jointly and the claimant (or either joint claimant) meets the following conditions:
- The claimant was previously entitled to an award of universal credit the last day of which fell within the 6 months preceding the date on which the claim is made; and
- During that 6 months:
The claimant has continued to meet the basic conditions required for universal credit (disregarding the requirement to have accepted a claimant commitment and any temporary period of absence from Great Britain that would have been disregarded during a period of entitlement to universal credit); and
The claimant was not excluded from entitlement to universal credit due to restrictions (for example due to being a member of a religious order who is fully maintained by their order, is a prisoner or serving a sentence of imprisonment detained in hospital unless certain exceptions apply).
Claimants responsible for three or more children who cannot make a UC claim can claim tax credits and other legacy benefits instead until 31 January 2019. After that date it is expected that these claimants will be able to claim UC, although the Secretary of State has the power to extend this period
If the claimant lived in any other relevant district (except those designated as full service areas) then the gateway conditions in this document applied at the date of claim.
The date of claim for UC is normally the date it is received or if later, the first day for which the claim is made. Where a couple is treated as having made a claim for UC, the date on which the claim is treated as having been made is the date they form the couple. More information can be found in DWP ADM Chapter A2.
You can read more detail about the gateway conditions in ADM Chapter M3.
Claimants who are classed as ‘UC claimants’ are also prohibited from claiming tax credits. This includes someone in a live service area whose award of UC comes to an end (for example due to an income rise) or who has a claim refused – for a period of 6 months after the end of the UC award. Find out more about UC claimants and tax credits.
When an area goes into the full service, DWP will start to write to existing live service claimants inviting them to make a claim through the digital full service system. If this is done within the timescale given, there should be no gap in payments and the person's assessment period should remain the same. It is not clear what happens if a person fails to make a claim using the full service system and whether this will result in termination of their live service award - we are seeking clarification from DWP on this point.
Last reviewed/updated 31 May 2018